Google to Offer Free Wi-Fi in Chelsea

Google Inc., the world’s biggest Internet-search company, plans to offer free wireless Internet access in parts of New York’s Chelsea neighborhood, creating the largest public outdoor network in the city.

The Wi-Fi network, which doesn’t require a password, is available today, Google said in a statement. U.S. Senator Charles Schumer, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and other officials attended an event to announce the service in Chelsea, where Google has offices.

Google has been working with New York to foster a technology hotbed in the city. Last year it agreed to donate office space to Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology for an engineering school while the institutions build a permanent home on Roosevelt Island.

“New York is determined to become the world’s leading digital city, and universal access to high-speed Internet is one of the core building blocks of that vision,” Bloomberg said at the Manhattan news conference. “Free Wi-Fi across this part of Chelsea takes us another step closer to that goal.”

Google also benefits from wider access to the Internet, which it uses to deliver services to customers and advertisers.

The new network is part of an effort to cultivate Silicon Alley, a concentration of startups in Manhattan. Wi-Fi will be available to thousands of New Yorkers between Gansevoort Street and 19th Street from 8th Avenue to the West Side Highway, according to a statement.

“We all know New York’s next job-growth engine is the tech industry,” Schumer said at the event. “This is the future.”

‘Digital Divide’

The project with Google is a small step in a city that has a long way to go before it can boast about its Wi-Fi service, said Gale Brewer, who heads the City Council’s Government Operations Committee and has advocated for free Internet service for more than 10 years. Thick walls in older buildings will prevent Wi-Fi signals from penetrating inside, she said.

“The city’s digital divide is growing, with people packing libraries to use computers because they can’t afford $50 subscription fees for Internet at home,” the councilwoman said. “We have citywide service for first responders; we should be able to create a firewall for use by civilians and provide this service citywide.”

Pilot Program

The network will cost $115,000 to build and $45,000 a year to maintain. Google will cover two-thirds of those costs, with Chelsea Improvement Co., a nonprofit neighborhood development group, paying the rest. The service will be operated as a pilot program for two years, said Dan Biederman, Chelsea Improvement’s president.

The service will be free of advertising except for a message that Google is the provider, said George Townley, director of information systems for Chelsea Improvement.

Google has been hosting a free Wi-Fi network in its home town of Mountain View, California, since 2006. Last year, it introduced a fiber network in the Kansas City, Missouri, area to deliver connections the company says are 100 times faster than typical high-speed Internet lines.

New York would like to extend Wi-Fi to all neighborhoods eventually, said the mayor, who is the founder and majority shareholder of Bloomberg LP, the parent company of Bloomberg News.

(Updates with councilwoman’s comment in eighth paragraph.)
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